The Incredible Ancient Cliff Dwellings of Montezuma Castle

Though more contemporary architecture fascinates modern man, ancient structural design has never ceased to amaze us because it points to our history, something that has made us who we are. Ancient architecture also gives us a peek at how ingenious man was at a time when our technology wasn’t yet available. One great example of this is the Montezuma Castle.

The Montezuma Castle is located near Verde Valley, Arizona, and presents itself as ancient cliff dwellings snuggled inside a nook. The cliff is made of limestone, a sedimentary rock usually composed of the skeletal remains of marine organisms. The limestone cliffs suggest that the area could have once had more water and moisture and may also have contained an abundance of living organisms before it became the desert land it is today.

As you can see in the picture below, the Montezuma Castle sits inside a hole just below the cliff, a very strategic position because the dwellings are well-shaded by the limestone ‘roof’.

Montezuma 3Photo: Andy Eick

Though it is has the word “castle” attached to it, the Montezuma Castle isn’t really a castle, but more of a “high-rise apartment complex.” Who would have thought of building a residence that boasts five stories and 20 rooms which could accommodate more than 50 people? Apparently, the Native American tribe the Sinagua did.

The Sinagua tribe built the Montezuma Castle around 700 AD, and did such a good job of it that even now, the ancient dwellings are some of the best preserved in the world. Interestingly, Montezuma was also an incongruous name for the dwelling: Europeans who discovered it mistakenly connected it to the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, who actually wasn’t born until a hundred years or so later. However, the name stuck.

Montezuma 5Photo: Peterrieke

From how and where the Montezuma Castle was built, one can find out about a lot of characteristics of the Sinagua people. They would have been skilled in mountain climbing, not to mention exceptionally brave, to scale high walls and build their home at such a height. The Beaver Creek below Montezuma Castle could have flooded to a great degree, and yet wouldn’t even reach the floors of the Montezuma Castle.

The Sinaguas were also very clever in placing their abode at such great heights because it made it difficult for rival tribes to invade. Visitors today couldn’t have taken a closer look at the Montezuma Castle were it not for the cemented stairs photographed below.

This location was also the perfect place to take advantage of the natural water source of the nearby creek, the land teeming with game, and the already irrigated and farmed lands of the Hohokam tribe. Below is a photograph of the nearby Montezuma Well, which looks especially beautiful when accented with autumn colors of orange and rust as well as some greenery. The sinkhole also contains marine organisms found nowhere else in the world.

Montezuma WellPhoto: Peterrieke

The Montezuma Castle still has an air of mystery because it was never known why the Sinagua tribe abandoned their home. Some speculate it was because of a rival tribe, the Yavapai, or because of the drought and famine, but all causes still remain open to speculation. What is certain about the Montezuma Castle, however, is that it shows man’s intelligence, resourcefulness and ability to think well ahead of his time.

Sources: 1 2 3 4

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